The actor in summer: Peter O'Toole's own story

July 18, 1993|By Barbara Samson Mills

LOITERING WITH INTENT:

THE CHILD

Peter O'Toole

Hyperion

! 198 pages, $21.95

Peter O'Toole's autobiography holds two surprises. It tells nothing about his acting career, and it is extraordinarily well-written; indeed, some of this narrative of his early years could well be rearranged as viable poetry. Throughout, Mr. O'Toole writes in an Irish dialect that is sometimes unintelligible. No matter. The music and color come through, and the view of his childhood is exceptional, sensitive and delightful reading.

Mr. O'Toole strikes an unexpected note by interweaving into his life story that of Adolph Hitler, whom he first "met" on a movie screen. He despises Hitler for the obvious reasons, but also because as a small child Mr. O'Toole had lived through harrowing bombings by the Germans in England. He is "resolving a chord whichhad hummed in [his] mind since boyhood." It was Hitler and, on a much more benevolent note, Mr. O'Toole's mother and father, who formed his early years.

Mr. O'Toole's stream-of-consciousness technique serves him well in describing his childhood. His father was a good-looking, rough, itinerant bookie, kind enough to befriend a field mouse and then beat a friend in a rage when the latter killed the animal on purpose. "Bliss it was in those days to be a child eight feet high in the air [on his father's shoulders] with his Daddy . . . heading for the Moo Cow milk bar. . . . Pop called it my pub. His pub would be around a cobbled corner." His mother, Constance Jane, at 20 had wavy black hair, quick eyes and a determination to marry for money. She didn't, but the couple still stayed together for 50 years.

There are numerous accounts of Mr. O'Toole and his friends cavorting in the street, war or no war, and only an incidental reference to his interest in drama and his eventual acceptance into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, which, of course, led to his eventual fame as an actor.

The book is subtitled "The Child," and presumably there will be a sequel. It will be well worth the wait.

Ms. Mills is a writer who lives in Monkton.

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